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Out of Sight, but Not Out of Mind

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Even though he had known the Thessalonians for only a few months and had been away from them just a short while, he struggled to endure the separation from them. In this paragraph, the apostle focuses on how deeply he cared for the Thessalonians by explaining three elements of his relationship to them: his desire to be with them, his understanding of his spiritual enemy and his anticipation of eternal reward.

I. PAUL'S LOVE FOR THE THESSALONIANS

    • “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while-in person, not in spirit were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you I, Paul. more than once ... “ (2:17-18a)
          1. the apostle Paul repeatedly wrote of his strong love for fellow believers
              1. even when he had to write some especially stern words of rebuke – such as to the church in Corinth – Paul still loved the Corinthians
                • "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you" (2 Cor. 2:4)
              2. Paul also had an unflagging love for the Philippians
                • "For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:7 8).
              3. at the conclusion of his letter to the Romans, Paul listed name after name of fellow Christians he loved and worked alongside for the sake of the gospel
          2. likewise, Paul loved the Thessalonians
              1. contrary to the Jews, who did not want the Thessalonians to know Christ and did not care about their spiritual health, Paul and his colleagues sincerely did care
                  1. the apostle called the Thessalonians brethren
                  2. this was a familiar term of endearment that expressed his filial, heartfelt affection for them
                  3. it was a sound repudiation of the criticism that he was indifferently refusing to return to Thessalonica

A. PAUL HAD BEEN TAKEN AWAY – HE HAD NOT LEFT

          1. the participle translated having been taken away can mean to be torn away from
                1. it’s the idea of a child orphaned from its deceased parents
                2. it illustrates how Paul felt about his premature separation from the Thessalonians
                  1. because he was forced to leave Thessalonica after a relatively short stay, he felt like a parent whose children had been torn away from him
                  2. this is evidenced by what he wrote to them
                    • "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith" (3:6-7).
              1. although the apostle's separation from them had been only for a short while, he nevertheless had a great longing in his heart to be with them
                1. though Paul’s enemies had taken him away from the Thessalonians in person, they could not remove him in spirit
                2. they were still in Paul's thoughts and prayers
                3. their spiritual needs burdened his heart
          2. his separation from them had made Paul all the more eager with great desire to see their face
                1. the phrase is loaded with intensity and emotion
                    1. great desire is a general expression for any kind of dominant passion or compelling, controlling desire
                    2. all the Apostle can think about is the Thessalonians and a return visit to them
            1. more than once Paul says that he desired to be with the Thessalonians again
                1. but there had been a formidable obstacle preventing his return, and he clearly identified that barrier in the next verse

B. THE APPLICATION

            1. spiritually minded people have a heart for God's own
                1. our time on earth is short and unsure
                2. only in heaven will there be no more parting
            2. we may never see some of our Christian friends again on this earth, but one day we will be with them for eternity
                1. so cherish them now
            3. true Christian fellowship does not reside on sentiment, but in our common bond in Christ

II. PAUL'S UNDERSTANDING OF HIS ENEMY

    • “ ... and yet Satan hindered us.” (2:18b)
            1. a second reality that Paul understood well in his ministry was that he faced satanic opposition
                1. he had the spiritual discernment and understanding to realize that God has allowed Satan to oppose the kingdom of God in a variety of ways
                2. Scripture mentions many of them
                    1. the devil tempted Christ
                    2. he opposes the gospel
                    3. he performs counterfeit miracles
                    4. he seeks to deceive believers
                    5. he perpetrates lies and murders
                    6. he attacks individual churches
                    7. he especially attacks spiritual leaders
            2. Satan seeks to thwart the progress of God's kingdom
                1. the word translated hindered is a military term referring to digging a trench or breaking up a road
                  • ILLUS. One of the countermeasures an ancient army would take against the opposition was to dig a massive trench that would prevent enemy troops from reaching its men. Another way to frustrate the enemy's progress would be to tear up a brick or stone road so that the adversary could not traverse it. Thus Paul depicted the powerful devil as supernaturally obstructing the apostle's strong desire to revisit Thessalonica.
                2. other New Testament writers portray Satan as a roaring lion who seeks victims to devour (1 Peter 5:8)
                3. but there is also the promise that the devil will flee from the believer who resists him (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9)
            3. the good news is that the devil is not omnipresent, and against believers he can do nothing that is outside God's overruling providence

A. THE APPLICATION

          1. the word "hindered" comes from two words: to cut and in
              1. Satan cut into the plans of Paul
                  1. he tried to impede the Apostle by breaking up his plans and placing obstacles in his path
              2. it is always the strategy of Satan to thwart any program to win people to Christ or to build them up in the faith
        1. Satan confronts godly strategy with his own strategy
              1. this is the source of many of our problems spiritually
                  1. not many Christians consider the impact of Satan upon their lives
              2. God considers it important enough to give believers a suit of armor to defend themselves

*"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Ephesians 6:10-13).

          1. the book of Acts says that men drove Paul's team from their ministry in Thessalonica
              1. this passage points to Satan as the source of this problem
                  1. it is clear that Satan uses men as his emissaries to accomplish his ends
              2. we do not see Satan physically but we can see people doing his work
                • "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one" (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3).
          2. although Satan hindered Paul's ministry, he did not daunt his ministry
              1. Paul in writing to the Thessalonians blessed the church with his two epistles for 2000 years

III. PAUL'S ANTICIPATION OF CHRIST'S RETURN

    • “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” (2:19-20)
          1. the apostle Paul always lived and taught others to live in the light of Jesus Christ's return
              1. here he plainly tells the Thessalonians that the glory to come to believers at Christ’s return is a powerful motivation for ministering
          2. in this passage he asks a rhetorical question ...
              1. he asked them who was the object of his hope
                  1. the answer of what brought him joy is somewhat surprising
                  2. one might think the answer should be the Lord Jesus Christ
                  3. but the apostle said, Is it not even you
              2. but it’s a joy that is not merely in their fellowship, but in their fellowship in the presence of Jesus at His Second Coming
                  1. this will be Paul’s glory and joy
          3. a great part of heaven's bliss for the redeemed will be the joyful presence of fellow believers

A. THE APPLICATION

          1. those we win to Christ are our part or our hope, joy and crown of glory in heaven

So Paul encouraged the Thessalonians with the truth that he did love them, evidenced by his desire to see them, the supernatural opposition it took to keep him away, and his view of heaven in which they would be central to his eternal joy. They also were his glory, which is the true honor bestowed on him by God, who used him to reach them. The pronoun you is in the emphatic position so as to remove any doubt that Paul was identifying his Thessalonian brethren as the source of both his eternal honor and happiness.

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